Written by Charles “Bones” Frank
Photos by Rob Roane
Hello my friends, greetings and salutations! The warm air of North Carolina’s beautiful coastal region wrapped me in inspiration and excitement as I arrived in Wilmington, a city rich with culture and history. A few miles away from downtown, the USS North Carolina battleship sits resolute, today a floating memorial museum commemorating the North Carolinian veterans who lived and fought amongst its bowels in World War 2. On this day however, a new kind of history would be written; on this day the absolute powerhouse that is BIG Something was hosting a soiree which will commemorate not just North Carolinians, but all faithful members of the EWI Nation from across the country who had arrived to live, love, and DANCE. Yes my good people, The Big What? Wilmington had inked its quill and was ready to open its own history book.
Although the third consecutive year that Big Something had descended on Greenfield Lake Amphitheatre, this time it was special. Not only was the celebration two days this time around, it was also the official album release party for the group’s new record, entitled The Otherside. The concept of the phrase “the other side” is something that binds us all. We conceive an idea of what “the other side” means. We think and rethink this concept throughout life, sometimes sharing it with others, sometimes holding it uniquely to ourselves. To me, “the other side” is a place far beyond our bodily existence, a spiritual existence where time stands still, and where we are all connected in eternal consciousness. To those in attendance for the weekend, “the other side” was tangible, and it’s home being Greenfield Lake. Join me, as I enter Big What? Wilmington, and Big Something’s The Otherside!
Weather can be such a mitigating factor in the concert experience, but at the Big What? Wilmington, the skies were sunny and the temperature was perfect, with a coastal breeze swaying periodically through the parking lot outside the amphitheater as I arrived. The vibe was high my friends, as evident by the cheers and greetings that eager groups echoed to one another as they began to assemble. Even a small shakedown street took form, a true indicator that the event was indeed underway. I made my way from the lot into the venue to take in a great day 1: Rebekah Todd, Zach Deputy, and the hosts, Big Something.
Rebekah Todd’s set was already underway by the time I got settled, and it was a different look than last time I had seen Todd. The soulful heart snatcher had shifted from a full band to a duo, and their sound was simply smooth, fresh, and whole. Her powerful voice from the soul can be soft, large, and commanding at the same time. She was the perfect act to ease into the party. Next up, Zach Deputy. Deputy is no newcomer to Big What? gatherings. He has become a staple in the BIG Something community and his set was the match that ignited the fuse for the evening. His high pitch voice which knows no bounds, absolutely belted over the still growing audience as his looping guitar dance breaks and foot stomps hypnotized onlookers. His set was like an island fiesta in which the piñata had been broken and the crowd was bathing in its bounty. I cannot get enough of Deputy’s voice, and I hoped as his set concluded that the stage had not seen the last of both himself and Rebekah Todd for the night. Next up, the main course. Big Something was set to take the tiller.
I ascended to the top of the amphitheater as the stage was being set to refill my beverage, and to take in some of the live painters next to the soundboard. Jamwich family favorites, Bryan Stacy and Leslie Caneda were hard at work detailing their respective images with magic fingers. Both of these artists are dynamic sultans of motif, and their images have provided texture at the summertime installations of The Big What? for years. Caneda was depicting a warm, earth colored turtle dancing with a banjo, while Stacy laid paint onto his ‘Dead End’ street sign, a style he has become synonymous with. As Bryan and I exchanged the phrase “go fully” to each other, the lights dimmed on stage, and it was time for the big kahuna.
BIG Something entered the arena with basketball style introductions being read off from the PA, “at starting center, measuring 6’3”….”, and each member of the band took their mark on stage individually, culminating with their general, Nick MacDaniels, taking center and ready to deliver. In addition to their current normal 7-piece lineup, Todd Petit would join the band on auxiliary percussion to bring their sound into the fullest form. Jam machine “Love Generator” fittingly opened the set to put the crowd into an immediate frenzy under the precise lights of Cameron Grogan. A “The Glow -> Passenger -> Moonshine” sequence followed, before an absolutely ferocious “Pinky’s Ride” set the night ablaze. Yes, the boys had arrived. Casey Cranford’s saxophone notes rang out triumphantly, as the bubbles from an attendee’s bubble gun washed over the swaying bodies below. To my eager delight, “Pinky’s Ride” gave way into the first and only cover of the set, the Bee Gee’s classic “You Should Be Dancing.” As I had hoped, Rebekah Todd emerged from side stage to take lead vocals on the 1976 hit. The reggae toned “Song for Us” followed, until the closing stanza of an appropriate “Waves -> Curse of Julia Brown -> Megaladon” took form. “Megaladon” is perhaps the most infectious of BIG Something’s catalogue, with an unforgettable pulsating bass line augmented by the same pulsating pattern on the keys. This version was made even more memorable by a Zach Deputy sit-in, as he lent his voice for a freestyle lyric laden “want to be next to you” section of track. This was an instant classic ladies and gents. “UFOs Are Real” encore punctuated the evening’s main event. MacDaniels told the drooling crowd, “See you downtown,” and downtown we went.
For this reporter, the after show destination could only be the Calico Room, a great spot in the heart of downtown, accentuated by a sprawling Bryan Stacy mural as the backdrop of the stage. Comeback Alice officially made their way into the What? family at last summer’s engagement, and I had to get a peep of them before hitting the hay. This band, led by singer and multi-instrumentalist Tony Tyler, oozes authenticity. Readers–go see this band. They are a smoke show of classic rock and roll. BIG Something’s Nick and Rhett sat in on an incredible “Fast Car (Comeback Alice original) -> Rock’n’Roll (Led Zepplin) -> Fast Car” portion that left the room floored. Several jaws had to be picked up off the Calico Room’s tile dance floor. Day 1 was officially in the books. Success.
Back at the lakeside amphitheater lots, people were jumping out of their skin in anticipation. Not a single note from the new album, The Otherside had played. Most of us knew what was coming in part deux. You know the saying “it’s a big city with a little city vibe?” That phrase is so apt when describing this event and this band. Everyone knew they were watching a special band transform into a titan of the industry, but the bonds in the community are so close knit. Each person there was separated to the next by only a tiny degree. And though the crowd was at full capacity, there were no strangers. The docket for the afternoon was Wilmington’s own Groove Fetish, TAUK, and BIG Something. Elation was also palpable that The Mantras were in the area code, set to put a cap on the late night events that evening.
The sun was up, the beer was cold, and my sunburn was unfortunately real. However nothing would deter me from entering “The Otherside.” Groove Fetish got things going right. This 5-piece attack unit hit the afternoon hard, with Drew Massey’s masterful work on the drum kit holding down a steady dance party for the early crowd. Evening began knocking on the door as TAUK assembled to make their mark. TAUK wove their electro-instrumental quilt over the pit while the seats in the amphitheater began to fill in. TAUK’s live music is a wormhole of precise crashes and breaks, while guitarist Matthew Jalbert picks at the seams of boundary. Towards the end of their set after “Mindshift’” Nick MacDaniels made a perfectly arranged sit-in as he assisted with the emphatic vocals on Nirvana’s “In Bloom” while TAUK went wild. Evening had come in from the doorstep, and as the light faded, a full pink moon began to poke through the sky, a poignant indicator of significance and beauty.
BIG Something took the stage to massive applause. People were floating, waiting to break free. This show was special, many of the songs from the new record were played live for the first time (a small few having been played at The Big What? last summer), and in addition, dedication and respect was paid to Paul Interdenato, BIG Something’s lyricist and collaborator who passed away just prior to the recording of The Otherside.
“The Undertow” and “Tumbleweed” began the night 2 affair, before the band embarked on playing The Otherside straight through. “Sundown Nomad” was up first, with “Wildfire,” “The Cave,” “The Otherside,” and “Smoke Signal” all growing out of their predecessor with no pauses between. Frankly, these songs and this album are so layered, masterfully arranged, and delivered that I don’t have enough words in this review to dissect each of them and explore them adequately. The extended jam in “The Otherside” was unreal, a complete example of Big Something’s prowess and their tightness as a group on stage. Jesse Hensley’s guitar solo in “Smoke Signal” was a ride unto itself. “Cosmic Dust” arose out of the ashes from Hensley’s shredding, and this new tune in particular is a vehicle my friends. It went deep, it bubbled up, and it was eerie. Imagining the potential of “Cosmic Dust” in the future gives me chills. Cranford’s spooky EWI intro and outro are building blocks laying the groundwork for wherever this vehicle decides to go. “Plug”, and “Hole” completed the assault on the eardrums to those of us witnessing this special occasion. Once again returning to the oceanic themed event, “The Flood” came out of “Hole”, and Aric Carter from TAUK doubled up on Rhett’s keyboard rig to add extra knob and twist sounds to another EWI laced banger. The crowd knew what was in store as MacDaniels picked up his mandolin to lay down what may be the best live version of “Amanda Lynn” I have ever hit. Backstage after the set, several members of the band echoed the sentiment. “Bright Lights” and “My Volcano” closed what a set that will live in infamy. The Interdenato penned “Simple Vision,” my favorite Big Something original served as the encore, as Nick said a few words about his fallen friend. Just when we thought it was over? Nope, this band had their hand on the pulse as a first time played apropos “Hey Jude” sing along played its role as the ultimate show closer. The atmosphere in front of the stage as this set drew its curtains was something fierce. I felt lucky to be there with my friends, and lucky to be alive. I also knew I had a prime piece of dessert waiting for me at The Whiskey, my favorite downtown club in the 910.
The Mantras are the scene’s masters of timing, rhythm, deep soul and wind up, and they set things down proper for The Big What? Wilmington . The Front Street venue was absolutely packed to the gills. I could write an entire review of just how good this show was, and with the aid of streaming technology the show is available to listen for free on the The Mantras Bandcamp page. The 5-piece from the triad stormed through saucy fan favorites like “Dr. Ssanasinod,” “Jabberwocky,” and “Metrognome.” The Mantras are also imminently set to release their new album Be The Light, and at this monster of an after-show, people remained completely kinetic. The whole place swam with energy. Julian Sizemore’s southern syrup vocals were so smooth on “Strongbox,” the room was left dripping with inkling for more. After a hardy Keith Allen lead and beautifully placed “Tangled Up in Blue” cover and several other quintessential original tunes from The Mantras canon, Sizemore would return to the microphone for an “Ain’t Wastin’ Time” encore that had the audience and staff members alike swooning. “Before My Time” and “Five Roads” played their penultimate and conclusive roles for the set, as the book of The Big What? Wilmington wrote its final page.
Life at the beach was good my friends. The first event at the Greenfield Lake Amphitheater under “The Big What?” title burst with success. For this reporter, sunburnt left foot and all, life was good. Both the sets from BIG Something are available on the Nugs.net app to relive, and tons of cool fan shot videos and images are littered throughout their Facebook group page, “The Middle of Nowhere with BIG Something.” As for the imagery that appears in this recap, they are the work of the incredibly talented and humble Rob Roane. My name is Charles Frank, though many of you may know me as ‘Bones’. It was a pleasure to serve The Jamwich family in this endeavor. Be on the lookout for more of my musings in the future. For now, I’m signing off!